Project filling in blanks in local African American history


Project filling in blanks in local African American history

By ZACH HARMUTH

For more than a year now, Christina Jones has spent days, nights and weekends on a quest to find out as much as she can about the lives of black Williamson County Civil War veterans.

She doesn’t just want to know who they were, but tell their story.

Jones, a lawyer-turned-stay-at-home mom,  volunteers as much of her time as she can, and maybe even a little bit more, to, among other things, the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County. The AAHS, founded in 1997 to share the the African American “experience in the growth and development of Williamson County,” according to its Facebook page, hosts A Black Tie Affair every February to honor African American heritage and talk about its work in the past, and coming, year.

The AAHS also gives out an African American Pioneer Family Award, where they trace the genealogy of a Williamson County African American family back to its beginning. Jones and AAHS founding-member Paulette Johnson, co-chairs of the AAHS historic committee, do the research.

That project dovetails with Jones’ project, which evolved out of an outreach program she started in 2001 for poor, mostly African American seniors at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“About 10 years ago I wanted to get to know them better, so one February for Black History month I said, ‘Let’s make family trees,’ and I created an Ancestry.com family tree for each them- 78 at last count,” she said.

“That got me interested in African American genealogy in general, and last February one of my seniors had asked me to do a program on something more about the Civil War. In March, I did it, and in the process of researching I found an article that talked about U.S. Colored Troops, and what they call the black Confederates from Williamson County. And there were only 30 on that list, and I thought there had to be more.”

So far, Jones has found traces of 320 African Americans from Williamson County who fought in the Civil War- 38 on the Confederate side and 283 for the Union, 13 of whom served in the Navy.

But that was the easy part.

The U.S. Census did not count black persons until 1870. Slaves rarely had last names, and after the Civil War took names of their former masters. Pre-war documents often don’t even list first names when slaves were concerned.

Given the record keeping practices applied to slaves, former slaves’ own lack of writing and reading education and the passage of time, recreating their lives and tracking their family trees can be a frustrating process.

“U.S. Colored troops are much easier to research because they were formally enlisted and there are military records,” she said. “The African American men who were taken by the Confederacy, really, as slaves off to serve were never formally enlisted. The only records we really have of them come from the 1920s when some of the Southern states offered pensions to veterans, or widows and orphans of veterans, who were impoverished or debilitated.”

“Part of this research means accepting there is so much you will never know.”

But when she does find something out, where a person fought, where they moved after the war, who their descendants are today, it is that much more exciting and rewarding.

She has so far she is ten names into her list, which she keeps stapled together in a thick research packet.

She still has page after page of lives, loves and losses waiting to be unearthed.

“There were more black people than white people living in Williamson County in 1860 – right before the civil war broke out – but no one talks about their history during the Civil War,” she said. “I think they get so overlooked.
She lists what she finds on her blog, From Slaves to Soldiers and Beyond.

Here is what she found out about the most recently researched name on her list:

John Dubuisson, Sr., U.S. Colored Troops veteran- 44th U.S. Colored Infantry

Dubuisson was born, most probably, in Mississippi (or possibly North or South Carolina) on August 14,1825.

“I strongly suspect that he was born in Mississippi – and probably belonged at one point to a slaveholder named Charles Lagruenne Dubuiss,” Jones wrote.

Dubuisson enlisted in the U.S. Army on September 23, 1864, in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the 100th Colored Infantry, Company C. His company rolls describe him as a 35-year old laborer and “mulatto.” His height, short even for the times, is listed at 4-foot-7.

He was a substitute, serving for Theodore Bunnell, who had been drafted. This was a common practice among those who could afford it, paying for a substitute to take the place of a drafted person.

“It is not clear to me how Private Dubuisson managed to get to Cincinnati in order to enlist,” Jones wrote. “It was a free state before the War, so perhaps he had fled there before the War broke out seeking freedom?  I also noted that a C. J. Dubuisson (not C L) from Yazoo, Mississippi is listed as a Confederate soldier – perhaps John was taken as a body servant to war and then escaped and decided to enlist on the Union side?  It’s impossible to know, but fun to speculate about all the possibilities.”

Many of Dubuisson’s muster cards- which show his duties and assignments- are missing, she wrote. However, the U.S. 100th U.S. Colored Infantry provided guard duty on the Nashville and Northwestern Railroad in Tennessee until December, 1864 and he was likely a part of that work.

Additionally, they were involved in:

  • a skirmish on the Nashville & Northwestern Railroad September 4, 1864
  • action at Johnsonville November 4-5, 1864.
  • the Battle of Nashville, Tenn., December 15-16, 1864 and Overton Hill December 16, 1864.

Dubuisson was discharged, she found, on December 26, 1866, along with his regiment in Nashville.

A month later, on January 13, 1867, he married Elizabeth Johnson in Williamson County.

“This makes me wonder if he had been living in Tennessee earlier and knew her before the War broke out,” Jones wrote. “If not, perhaps they met when he was stationed in Nashville and perhaps she was a contraband there?”

The next sign of the Dubuissons comes from the 1870 Census.

“John is a 45 years old, a carpenter and is married to ‘Bettie,’ 35, a domestic servant,” Jones wrote. “They have two children, Lena, 8, and John Jr., 1. They appear to be living with the Blip family as well as some others. The fact that Lena is 8 also makes me think that they had a relationship that predated the War – and the gap in the age of the children, is accounted for by his absence during the War. So perhaps John was a slave brought to Williamson County before the War broke out and then escaped to Nashville – or even farther north where he enlisted in Cincinnati? In this Census John says he was born in North Carolina – not South Carolina as his military records states. They are living in District 9 which includes the city of Franklin. Here we first learn that John Sr. can read and write.  Its possible that he learned this during his time in the military – some of the regiments had officers who encouraged the soldiers to learn this skill.”

After that, the 1880 Census shows a family growing larger, however its information may have been a few years out of date in 1880.

Still living in Franklin, but sharing a house with Bettie’s father, Virgil Johnson, a shoemaker. They have had twins Dan and Mary Lou, 7, but John, Jr. disappears from the record, possibly he died.

The next sign of Dubuisson comes when he files for invalid pension from the Federal government in May, 1892, and again in June, 1907.

Dubuisson died on July 9, 1909 in Franklin and is buried at the
African-American Toussaint L’Overture Cemetery where he has two headstones – a joint one with his wife Bettie (who died in 1930), and a military one recognizing his service in the 100th U.S. Colored Infantry.

“However, his legacy does not end here. John and Bettie’s children – despite being born in the shadow of the Civil War – go on to have very successful lives and careers,” wrote Jones.

Dan moved at the age of 12- on his own- to Little Rock, where he led a very successful life in business, eventually running a Funeral Home company and owning a Negro League Baseball team- the Dubisson Tigers. (The spelling of their last name dropped the ‘u’ at some point.)

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